Happiness, it seems, lies on the other side of a wandering mind. To enjoy life it doesn't matter so much what we do, as how focused we are on whatever we're doing.
Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.
Meditation is supposed to help people learn how to concentrate, and thus, seemingly, be happier.
However, the researchers found that the top happiness rating was given to (no big surprise) having sex, followed by exercising, conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading.
Often religious believers consider that activities associated with their faith lead them to be happy. But probably focus is the real reason why worship, rituals, and such are so satisfying. Along with sex, of course.
As I said in my post, when the wandering "monkey mind" is zeroed in on a single thing, we tend to feel happier -- no matter what that thing is (I"ve found that even when I go to the dentist, embracing the experience for what it is makes me feel better than when I try to distract myself with thoughts of non-dental this and that.)
I talked about going shopping with my mental monkey more under control.
This afternoon, though, inspired by the wandering mind = less happy research, I did better while grocery shopping. I consciously focused on each step I took from the parking lot into the south Salem Fred Meyer store.
Then I had a sense of slowing down, selecting one item at a time, being mindful of the details of choosing bananas, checking the expiration date on organic lettuce mix, finding an unfamiliar brand of hair conditioner that my wife had put on the list.
I really did feel happier shopping in this fashion. It struck me that external reality is considerably more interesting, by and large, than my thoughts -- which tend to be repetitive.
After loading the groceries into the back of our Hybrid Highlander and starting to drive off to the next shopping stop, I got another lesson in the value of mindfulness.
Still engaged in focusing on external reality, rather than my own mind, I saw a gorgeous young woman -- willowy, shapely, graceful -- walking through the parking lot. If I'd been zeroed in on what my psyche was chattering about, instead of what was sensuously present in the outside world, I could have missed her.
Over on the Progressive Buddhism blog, Adam Miller was writing about something similar on the same day. I resonate with his thoughts about Scale.
When we're always looking for some grand experience, whether spiritual or secular, the marvelousness of what is right in front of us escapes our gaze. Miller says that we need to focus on a finer scale to really appreciate reality.
I want to hew close to the bone of life. I want to press myself right up against the grain of its pulse. I want to tongue life's live nerve.
The modesty of the scale is hard to swallow. I had bigger plans in mind for myself. I was going to be a contender.
A breath? Really? An itch in my big toe? Really? A breeze tickling the rim of my ear? A brush of a kiss from wife's chapped lip?
Why not? What was I hoping for?